January 24th 1848 in Sutter’s Mill, Caloma, California, was the moment that one James W Marshall spied a nugget glinting in the dust, and thus marked the beginning of a Gold Rush which transformed the American economy and led directly, amongst other things, to the decimation of the Native American population alongside that of the buffalo. Just under one hundred years later, the actor Charles Laughton in The Private Lives of Henry Eighth began what can only be called The Second California Gold Rush simply by tossing a half-consumed leg of chicken over his shoulder and into a Medieval fireplace. Just under a hundred years after that, Helen Mirren picked up her Oscar for a miraculous performance as Queen Elizabeth II, so initiating the third wave of racing for gold, courtesy of a continuous obsession by the media towards the subject of royalty, usually without honour, but surely with mining more gold than in “them thar hills.”

Watching Helen Mirren grappling with recalcitrant prime ministers as well as the deathly legacy of everyone’s favourite princess, I found myself literally open-mouthed at what had previously, at least in my humble opinion, been merely the subject of speculation as opposed to celluloid fact. Can one really get away with such unconfirmed and frequently grubby speculation? Well yes, and apparently again yes, time after time. The apogee of all these royal fumblings surely came with that over-protracted series, The Crown. Did it ever dare to suggest that The Duke of Edinburgh had a few bits on the side? Please remind me, for such contrived details are overwhelmed, almost on a daily basis, by real events equally difficult to comprehend.

Now we have another offering from Netflix, the public sniffer dog to royal misdemeanours, in the form of a film about a TV film about the perils of the royals saying too little or too much, too soon or too late. Are you still with me? Soon we will no doubt have a film about how two films managed to get made almost simultaneously about the same subject. Surely there must be a limit to the number of navels (royal and commonplace, rich and poor) we are able to gaze at?

This being said and possibly because the subject of the infamous Prince Andrew interview is still relatively fresh in our minds, Scoop arrives laden with top of the tree talent and with the distinguished hand of Philip Martin (The Crown, Prime Suspect, Wallander) at the helm. Reality gives way reluctantly to speculated fiction, but how can this compete with the public unravelling of a deeply flawed and now universally despised second-rate prince? What can top that? Well, Scoop first takes a measured step backwards then launches into what becomes a “will he, won’t he” cliff-hanger. Except we know he will, does, and falls on his sword as in his mind he is ordering another sackbut of dough from Pizza Express (Woking division), and all without breaking into even the mildest of sweat.

Herein seems to be the almost insoluble problem of making a film about a disastrous encounter, and that is in the replication of that very fiasco. For in the case of our hapless prince, it was the entirety of the interview which in question after question he dug himself deeper and deeper into the sewage tank of his own manufacture which dictated his downfall. In other words, in its accumulation of damning detail it provided its world-wide and by now hypnotised audience a close up view of self-immolation.

So now the programme makers (Lighthouse Film Company and Voltage TV) had difficult choices about which segments of the catastrophic interview they would choose to dramatize. And here their decisions were made even harder by the weapons at their disposal in the shape of Rufus Sewell and Gillian Anderson playing the prince and interviewer Emily Maitlis respectively. Here are actors at the very top of their game and able to provide nuances of expression and therefore emotion that would be far beyond the skills of a second-tier prince. It is a matter of general knowledge that the prince, upon conclusion of the real interview, turned to Emily and said, ‘Well, I think that went rather well, don’t you?’ at the very second the queen, upstairs, would be readying herself to strip her favourite son of all and every royal rank he had, or would ever in future, possess.

It was entirely the fault of brilliance in Sewell’s performance which meant that in the film version, when he pronounces those now legendary words, we actually think the opposite to received opinion, meaning ‘yes, you did indeed come over extremely well!’ This is why I say this was an insoluble problem, especially for helmsman Philip Martin. For in respect of whatever he threw at Sewell to do, Rufus would find a hook, even the slimmest of one, to hang an emotion out for us to grasp onto. So now as an audience watching effectively a replay of a disastrous encounter, we see shades of possible truth and deep feelings within what we had previously believed, from the beginning of the real TV encounter, to be a complete pack of lies. Even under layers of brilliant make-up, Sewell gave us a real person, not that deeply insubstantial cardboard cutout we saw evading Emily Maitis in the BBC original.

There was plenty more to cotton onto to make this a highly watchable film. Billy Piper for example as Newsnight’s Sam McAlister, who seemed transformed from our familiar milk and honey ingenue into an addled, prematurely middle-aged harridan to tremendous effect. Also her hair, especially when the full rat-tail exposure was seen from behind, ran the risk of stealing any scene it was figured in.

The interiors of Aunty BBC’s neon-infested corridors and the entrances and exits from what completely fooled me as being the real Buck House, paid tribute to the highly talented Production Designer Stephane Collonge. Now we wait expectantly for a second spin on this doomed encounter, which we are promised is in the pipeline. Meantime, congratulations to Netflix who once again got there first, allowing us, at least those with the wherewithal to pay their increasingly punitive subscriptions, a front row seat to watch an almost real action replay.

Scoop is available to watch on Netflix UK. Images courtesy of Netflix (c) 2024.